Planning for the birth of the child is an exciting time. Parents need to make lots of choices, from simple decisions about what kind of stroller to buy to more complex decisions about breastfeeding versus bottle feeding.
Whatever choices a parent makes, the good health and well-being of the child is ultimately the most important goal. Regular checkups with a doctor or other health care practitioner are important to ensure that your baby stays healthy.
Pediatricians recommend that, beginning at two months of age, babies begin receiving a series of vaccinations against common childhood illnesses. Because of a possible link between vaccinations and the rise in the diagnosis of autism in young children, however, some parents are opting to not have their children vaccinated.
What is Autism?
Autism is a neurological disorder. Symptoms of autism include:
- avoidance of physical contact
- delays in language development and socialization
- extreme sensitivity to light
- sensitivity to sound.
In recent years, doctors have seen a rise in the diagnosed cases of autism. Today, approximately one in 160 children will be diagnosed with autism.
Parents are usually the first to notice developmental delays or problems in their children. In some cases of autism, a child may be developing normally, then begin to regress. While autism can be diagnosed at any age, children are typically diagnosed before they turn 3.
Children are vaccinated against many diseases, including:
- whooping cough.
In the past decade, vaccines against chicken pox, hepatitis and cervical cancer have been added to the list of possible childhood vaccinations. While many of these diseases are life-threatening, some parents may consider the risks of vaccinations too high.
Vaccines and Autism: The Possible Link
Some researchers believe that childhood vaccinations may cause autism. This link is suspected because many children first develop autism symptoms when they are around 18 months old. Some believe that the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine given at that age may be responsible for a higher incidence of autism.
The medicines in childhood vaccinations themselves are not believed to cause autism. Many believe that thimerosal, the preservative made with mercury and used in some vaccines, may be the link. Vaccines contain minute amounts of thimerosal. However, because children often receive several vaccinations at one time, such as in the MMR vaccine, some believe the mercury can build up in their systems, contributing to autism.
Another reason that some people suspect a link between autism and vaccines is that the symptoms of autism are very similar to symptoms of mercury poison. Mercury is toxic to the brain, but tests to determine mercury toxicity are not always reliable. Blood and hair analysis don’t always prove mercury poisoning, and it’s unlikely that doctors would be willing to order the kind of organ biopsy necessary to prove that an autistic child has a high level of mercury in his body.
Childhood Vaccines: Tips for Parents
Many parents believe that they are required by law to have their children vaccinated. While this is the case in many states, some states now allow parents to “opt out” of childhood vaccines, if they cite “reasons of conscience.” Parents may also cite medical or religious objections to childhood immunizations.
If you want to have your child vaccinated but are concerned about the possible link between autism and thimerosal, ask your doctors about vaccines that do not contain preservatives. Also, read the labels on all the shots and oral medications your child receives.
FamilyDoctor.org (n.d.). Childhood Vaccines: What They Are and Why Your Child Needs Them. Retrieved on August 20, 2007, from the FamilyDoctor.org Web site: http://familydoctor.org/online/famdocen/home/healthy/vaccines/028.htm.
Kennedy, Robert, Jr. (2005). Autism, Mercury, and Politics. Retrieved on August 20, 2007, from the Boston.com Web site: http://www.boston.com/news/globe/editorial_opinion/oped/articles/2005/07/01/autism_mercury_and_politics?mode=PF.
Mayo Clinic (2006). Autism. Retrieved on August 20, 2007, from the Mayo Clinic Web site: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/autusm/DS00348.
Medline Plus (2007). Medical Encyclopedia: Autism. Retrieved on August 20, 2007, from the Medline Plus Web site: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/001526.htm.
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (2007). Autism. Retrieved on August 20, 2007, from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke Web site: http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/autism/detail_autism.htm.